Mark Ward, Sr., PhD 2013-04-03 13:23:01
Two FAME winners find creativity and fulfillment in later-career transitions to school nutrition. Meet Amy Harkey Each of us can think of certain events—some news we received, some milestone we hit—that have influenced our life paths ever since. Amy Harkey, MS, RD, LD, SNS, winner of the 2013 FAME Silver Spirit Award and director of child nutrition operations at Charlotte- Mecklenburg (N.C.) Schools, remembers two such days. One transformed her personal life and the other her professional career—and both were marked by initially devastating news. The first was a day, 20 years ago, when Harkey received a Stage 3 breast cancer diagnosis and was given only a 25% chance of survival. After aggressive treatment, however, she beat the odds, and her story of recovery and perseverance has been an inspiration to many in her circle. This includes raising thousands of dollars to fund breast cancer research. And while she has always been dedicated to healthy eating, “I realized that diet wasn’t enough without exercise.” Today, she continues a practice of rising at 4:15 each morning for a vigorous workout before heading to her office by 6 a.m. The second day that changed her life happened in 2001. “That was the day my job was eliminated,” remembers Harkey. Understanding just how distressing this news was to Harkey requires a deeper look into her background. Starting Over Harkey grew up in New Jersey, where her mother worked as a nurse. Later, as she pursued a home economics degree at Mars Hill College in North Carolina, she was drawn to dietetics. Finding work as a hospital technician after graduation in 1976, she set her sights on becoming a registered dietitian and realized that ambition in 1981, after earning a master’s degree in food and nutrition from South Carolina’s Winthrop University. Ultimately, she transitioned from hospital settings to become dietitian and nutrition educator for a major medical group. But when a new boss came on board, bringing a strict bottom-line focus, Harkey found herself out of a job. “My position didn’t bring in any income,” she explains. At that point, she had been working in healthcare for 25 years and was in her late 40s. What was she to do now? “I didn’t know what direction to turn,” she recalls. Active networking through Harkey’s local chapter of the American Dietetic Association (now the Academy of Nutrition and Dietet- ics) alerted her to a search being conducted by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools for a nutritionist. “I got the position,” she says, “and within the first year, I realized that I’d found my niche in school nutrition. Childhood obesity was just then becoming a national issue, so the time was right for me to get in.” Believe and Achieve Soon after joining the district in 2001, Harkey obtained grants to underwrite a fresh fruit and vegetable program. Her department garnered Outstanding Implementation Awards from the state education department in 2002 and 2003, and a statewide School System Excellence award in 2005 cited Harkey’s efforts to start a grab ‘n’ go breakfast program and adopt a district-wide allergy policy. As director of child nutrition operations, reporting to executive director of child nutrition services Cindy Hobbs, SNS (In Profile, April 2011), Harkey oversees operations at 160 schools leading a team of 1,200 employees who serve some 20,000 daily breakfasts and 100,000 lunches. Under Harkey’s supervision, the school nutrition team can claim many innovative achievements, including a Chefs Move to Schools partnership, a high school food show, a comprehensive manager development program and SNA certification for all supervisory staff. District schools have garnered numerous HealthierUS School Challenge awards. As a media spokesperson, Harkey has helped to generate nearly 300 positive news stories. She has been asked to serve on expert panels for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Food Service Management Institute. “Though life is bound to bring the unexpected,” Harkey concludes, “along with it come the unexpected opportunities, which can turn out to be the best that could have happened.” Current Title: Director of Child Nutrition Operations City, State: Charlotte, N.C. Profession You’d Choose If Not School Nutrition: Wellness coordinator Bedside Book/Magazine: Toxin by Robin Cook Top of the Bucket List: Find my family’s ancestral castle in England Dream Dinner Guest: Thomas Jefferson Favorite Subject in School: History Meet Jim Hemmen When the Great Recession hit in 2008, “I could see the handwriting on the wall,” Jim Hemmen remembers. For several years, he had managed corporate dining programs for Fortune-100 companies, but with the financial markets shrinking, his clients would be cutting back on such perks. On the bright side, the recession coincided with Hemmen’s growing desire to reduce his travel schedule. “I had two small children—twin girls—and I wanted to spend more time with them,” he recounts. “Just as important, I wanted to do something that could make a lasting difference.” Determining career redirection is not an undertaking Hemmen set upon lightly. “I’d kept up over the years with an old friend who was a career coach,” he relates. “We got together and he gave me a self-assessment.” The results confirmed a possibility he’d already had in the back of his mind. “I knew some people in school nutrition, and that possibility always intrigued me.” Making the Leap That year, 2008, Hemmen landed his current position as child nutrition services supervisor for the Roosevelt School District in the South Mountain section of Phoenix, Ariz. Today, as the recipient of the 2013 FAME Rising Star Award, clearly, his career move has worked out well. “I love my job, I’m making a difference—and I’m spending time with my daughters,” he enthuses. In a district of 19 schools, where 94% of its 10,000 students are eligible for free and reduced-price meals, Hemmen and his team are making a significant difference, serving 9,200 breakfasts and 9,000 lunches each day, plus more than 3,500 nutritious afterschool snacks. “When I came here five years ago,” Hemmen explains, “the child nutrition program had just broken even for the first time. My mandate was to build on that [success] by upgrading the program, taking it to the next level.” To rise above his newcomer status, Hemmen immediately started building a professional network through the School Nutrition Association of Arizona (SNAAZ). As he learned about best practices, he quickly realized his own challenges at Roosevelt boiled down to three questions: How could he obtain the freshest foods? How could he empower his staff? How could he invest in the program to provide the tools his staff needed? Changing the Game As he discovered the answers, Hemmen’s successes started to accumulate. Meals with more fresh fruits and vegetables. A new menu with higher-quality entrées. A universal breakfast program. A chef partnership. Participation rates on the rise. A brand-new, state-of-the-art nutrition education center and food distribution warehouse. “The warehouse allows us to buy more commodities in bulk, saving us money and helping us do our jobs better,” continues Hemmen. “But the space also raises the profile for nutrition education. We can promote healthy lifestyles in our community through classes in nutrition, cooking and wellness— subjects that can be mixed in with science and math. The ultimate goal is to involve children and their parents,” he details. Cherished times with his own family started Hemmen on his journey. Days spent on his grandparents’ farm, working in the garden and then cooking and canning their produce, made a big impression. As a teen in Bellingham, Wash., he took his first job in a local restaurant. Later, he enrolled in culinary school, but decided he was drawn more to hospitality management and, in 1989, Hemmen earned a Washington State University degree. Two years on the fast track in foodservice management companies came next. In 1991, he and his wife spent opened and operated Hemmen’s Café in Bellingham, while also distributing Hemmen’s Hotcakes nationwide. A decade later, ready for something new, Hemmen sold those businesses and entered the world of corporate dining management. With his most recent career transition, to school nutrition, “It’s not about my success anymore,” he notes. “It’s about rewriting the rules—for our kids and for future school nutrition professionals—so they can be game-changers.” Current Title: Child Nutrition Services Supervisor City, State: Phoenix, Ariz. Profession You’d Choose If Not School Nutrition: Baseball executive Bedside Book/Magazine: Today Matters by John Maxwell Top of Your Bucket List: Spend summer sailing the great Mediterranean ports Dream Dinner Guest: Mark Twain Favorite Subject in School: Shop Class Mark Ward is a freelance writer in Victoria, Texas.
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